Fruits and vegetables are encouraged by medical organizations worldwide. These foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that are important to support the body's systems including the immune system. But often lately new studies or diet programs seem to dispel what were once commonly used diet advice. Can fruits and vegetables hold up under the scrutiny?
Although it is impossible to absolutely confirm the benefits from fruits and vegetables, more studies of large populations will help determine what type of connection may exist. One such study completed in England, found that those who consumed higher amount of fruits and vegetables had lower rates of death than their counterparts over a nearly 8 year period.
The observational study was based on annual surveys of 65,226 residents of England who were 35 years or older at the start of the study. The survey gathered information about dietary habits and other factors that may affect health such as BMI, physical activity, and alcohol consumption over an average of 7.7 years. Information for mortality due to any cause, cancer mortality, and cardiovascular mortality (heart disease, stroke) were also gathered. The participants were divided into groups according to their fruit and vegetable consumption defined as less than 1 serving per day, 1 to 2 servings per day, 3 to 6 servings per day, and 7 or more servings per day.
Compared to those who ate less than one serving of fruits and vegetables:
- Those who ate 7 or more servings per day had lower mortality due to all causes, including cancer and cardiovascular disease
- Those who had 1 to less than 3 servings per day or 3-7 servings per day had lower mortality rates but the benefit was less than those who had 7 or more servings
These benefits remained even after accounting for other factors, like age, weight, alcohol consumption, and exercise level, that can affect mortality rates and risk for cancer and heart disease. The benefits increased as the number of servings per day increased.
Overall vegetables including salads appeared to have a stronger association to reduced mortality than fruits. Frozen fruits and canned fruits were grouped together into one category and were actually associated with increased mortality.
Observational studies can not determine a cause and effect but instead suggest a link. The benefits of fruits and vegetables found here are similar to those found in multiple other trials which helps support the reliability of these results. The benefits of overall fruit and vegetable, and vegetables alone may be reliable but the benefits of fruit products alone is a little more difficult to rely on. Canned and frozen fruit includes a variety options that may or may not include fruits stored in heavy syrups which may be detrimental so the link between fruits and increased mortality found in this study may not be truly reliable.
Many studies have suggested a wide range of health benefits associated with increased fruit and vegetable consumption without negative side effects. Unfortunately, most adults in the US still only get about 3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Seek a variety of fruits and vegetables to work into your day. Make vegetables the main portion of your lunch or dinner, add fruit into your morning routine and select fruit or vegetable. A salad is an easy way to boost your vegetable intake but not the only option. Keep track of how many servings you get each day and gradually increase them until you reach your goal.
Oyebode O, Gordon-Dseagu V, Walker A, Mindell J. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2014 Mar 31.
Last reviewed April 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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